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Standards-based Education

I was assigned to sub in a 4th-grade regular ed classroom today, covering for a teacher who had a last-minute absence. Not a problem, it happens from time to time.

The language arts lesson was a story called "The Gold Rush," an "expository non-fiction" piece. My reaction, when I saw this, was, "oh, crap! A 'covered wagon' story." Kids here know nothing about history. Nothing. If there were a word for less than nothing, that's actually how much they know.

The first paragraph of the story, which was only three or four sentences long, described how the population of the eastern states in the 1800s was considerably greater than that of the western states. I'll spare you the gruesome details pertaining to the laborious process through which we struggled to discern the "main idea" of the paragraph. It was... challenging.

Then I asked the class of about 20 10-year old 4th-grade regular ed students to name an eastern state.

"Canada!" was the first response.

"Nice try. Canada is a country. We're looking for a state."

"North America!"

"Uhm... North America is a continent. Can anyone name an east coast state?"


I swear, I am not making this up.

"Hamburg is a city. A city in Germany! Forget the east coast thing. Just name a state? Any state, except Hawaii, which is where we are."

Twenty kids. I called on every one of them. I got three states. California, New York, and Georgia. I got four continents, a handful of countries (including Turkey), and several cities. But only three states.

I stopped the story. We took out folder paper, numbered it from 1 to 50, and wrote down the names of all the states.

If I were to bring this up with the other teachers, or with admin, I have little doubt the response would be, "U.S. geography is not a fourth-grade standard." This, despite the fact that at every meeting admin is harping at us about being a STEM-G school: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Geography.

NASA is pouring their money down the toilet by funding us as a NASA Explorer School.

I would counter the "not a 4th-grade standard" with, "reading comprehension is the standard I've been tasked to teach, and they can't comprehend stories about states if they don't know what a freaking state is!" That would be LA 4.1.1, Use Grade-Appropriate Vocabulary.... I would posit that the names of the states are "grade appropriate vocabulary."

But what the hell do I know?

Just for the record, the 4th-grade Social Studies standards include stuff like:
SS 4.7.1: Identify the major geographic characteristics and demographics of the pre-contact Hawaiian archipelago, including its relative location to other major land masses.

Like that's gonna help you out in college. And that "relative location to other major land masses" thing is pretty funny if you think about it in light of today's shining example of geographic acumen.

In case you're thinking maybe they shoulda learned about states and stuff in the third grade, here's a representative third-grade benchmark:

· 3.8.1: Limited Resources and Choice: Explain that opportunity cost is the best alternative given up when making a choice.

Erm... I didn't learn about "opportunity cost" until college! Maybe I'm the stupid one here. Who needs to know the names of the stinkin' states when you can describe the comparative demographics of the Hawaiian archipelago couched in microeconomic terms?

I can just imagine the blank looks I'd get from the students if I tossed out the term "archipelago." I shall try it tomorrow, right before I quiz them on "opportunity cost."

Twenty kids. Three states.

And three pages to go before we even get to the covered wagon part.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)
That's sad. Really, really, really sad.

I'm not surprised, though. I homeschooled a girl for a year alongside kurii (he was in 4th grade, she was in 5th) and was given the unenviable task of trying to fill enough of the holes and gaps in her education to help her be successful in grades 6-12.

Her situation was in part to too much trendy indirect teaching methods . . . and no rote memorization or drills from the curriculum.

BONUS STORY: Classic example of "fun" methods gone crazy: I remember she didn't know the difference between < and > in math. When I gave her a problem, she set about drawing little teeth on the symbols, and explained to me that her former teacher had taught the lesson with an elaborate pond theme, explaining to them that some were alligators and some were crocodiles. "It was so much fun!" she exclaimed.

However, she wasn't able to remember which symbol was which, though. Nor did she know that the arrow pointed to the smaller number. Nor did she know the trick of looking at the < as a sideways capital L for "less than." All she remembered was that it was fun to decorate the little carats and wished we could do that again.


P.S. I may have mentioned this before, but I used the Hirsch series with kurii every morning as an icebreaker


They aren't perfect, but they helped me identify major deficiencies in my teaching/his learning.
Apr. 29th, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)
<3 John Astin userpic
Apr. 29th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Re: P.S.
(empty character) is less than (3 John Austin userpic)
Is that higher math?


Edited at 2008-04-29 09:05 pm (UTC)
Apr. 29th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
::puts on dumb-hat::
I didn't know Hawaii had different states ... Duh!

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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